Arias with a Twist
Arias with a Twist, the hugely wacky counter-culture off-Broadway hit now making its local debut in a much-heralded and continuously sold out run at the Redcat, begins with a sinisterly whispered recorded announcement warning patrons to refrain from flash photography, as it may cause “residual emotions.”
From there, before the initial appearance of the show’s co-creator and world-renowned drag chanteuse Joey Arias, who is reverently referred to in the announcement as the Z beyond the XY chromosome, the sparkly burlesque show curtain slowly, almost painfully opens to the strains of a scratchy soundtrack somewhat resembling the theme from I Love Lucy.
Behind that curtain… is another curtain. Behind that curtain, is yet another one. Behind that, finally, is the four-piece Dream Music Orchestra, four ridiculously detailed half-life-sized puppet musicians designed by the show’s inspired director, designer and co-creator Basil Twist. These inanimate characters possess smirking, goofy but authentically human visages, yet not Barbie-Ken faces by any means. Instead, the Dream Music bandmembers look like a quartet of crusty old upper-eastside New Yorkers one might see reading the Racing Form while riding the Stillwell Avenue subway to Coney Island and the fascination—and creepiness factor—is instantaneous.
After an overture which could have been lifted from a Flash Gordon-Buster Crabbe serial, a floating paper mache flying saucer gives way to a group of puppet aliens standing around the supine Arias, strapped to a wildly-spinning gurney and being probed by tubes and flashing lights. Arias, dressed in a bizarre black Bettie Page bra and panty ensemble over a flesh-colored stuffed undergarment to create his female form below, opens his Vampira-kohled eyes and quietly asks, “Where is my purse?”
Arias with a Twist is mad, hilariously off-color, and uniquely entertaining at every turn, especially when Arias is dumped in a tropical forest filled with huge cloth leaves and blossoms described by our poor dear abductee as “velvety… and so corduroy!”
Starving after such a horrifying ordeal, Arias then licks a glittery mushroom and descends into a hallucinogenic fantasy to rival any, complete with Daniel Brodie’s incredible geometric designs worthy of the Whisky’s walls in 1969 and the show’s six puppeteers, moving behind their bizarre star attraction camouflaged in black, becoming oversized serpents and turning him into a Hindu goddess right before our eyes—all as he sings a medley of Beatles songs beginning with, of course, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.
Arias, who sounds a little like Marlene Dietrich with a bad cold doing The Yoko Ono Songbook, is singularly amazing throughout this magical, unbelievably screwball entertainment. With costumes designed by Chris March under the leadership of Thierry Mugler, for whom Arias has been a major muse for well over two decades, this is surely one of the most ridiculously imaginative and genuinely hilarious offerings we Angelenos have been treated to in a long time.
For native New Yorkers, it is a special treat, especially when Arias becomes Allison Hayes in 1958’s The Attack of the 50-Foot Woman to recreate his own return home to the Big Apple after several years as the star of Zumanity in Las Vegas, soon horrifying a twinkling cardboard Manhattan skyline, terrorizing taxi cabs and eating screaming riders from subway cars like raisins from a box (“Um, yum, I love Puerto Ricans!”), all accompanied by huge sonic booms with every footfall. Looking around the diminished city around him, Arias asks incredulously, “Whole Foods? What the fuck happened to CBGB’s?”
Arias is like no other performer, someone who can even floss elegantly or go down on huge-dicked devil puppets with delicacy and a true sense of style. Beyond that, his vocals are astounding, heading often into Yma Sumac ranges, and his knack for outrageous comedy that so easily includes his audience in on the joke is world-class and forever tongue-in-cheek. Coupled with the genius of Basil Twist, Arias with a Twist provides a match made in some deliciously twisted—and surely more interesting than any traditional—idea of performance art heaven.
Arias with a Twist plays through Dec. 13 at REDCAT in the Disney Hall, 631 W. 2nd St., Los Angeles; for tickets, call 213.237.2800 or log on at www.redcat.org.